The spectacle of a water bird nesting rookery is a birder “must see.” North Deer Island has 1.7 miles of protected shoreline which supports nesting habitat for the threatened Reddish Egret and 16 other bird species. Rookeries dot the Texas Gulf coast. Among the best in Texas is 144-acre North Deer Island shared by nesting herons, egrets, ibis, cormorants, shorebirds and seabirds. You’ll witness the sight, sounds and smells of thousands of Brown Pelican (approximately 40% of TX coastal nesters), Little and Great Blue Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, White and White-faced Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill. The rookery pairs will show you their best plumage, but North Deer Island is way more than just a pretty face.
The true highlight of the boat trip is the ceaseless activity including mating display, nest building, incubation and the endless feeding of partners and nestlings. Viewing this Global Important Bird Area site NDI is by boat only. Your guides are birders that count area rookeries each spring and from the organizations with responsibility to maintain the habitat. The boat will make several passes along NDI’s west shore. Viewing distances will be determined by the tides and prevailing winds. As you take in the grandeur of the NDI rookery your guides will pass along firsthand knowledge about its inhabitants and how each species exploits its own nesting and food niches among 12,000 individual birds.
The route back to Galveston Harbor depends on weather and reported bird sightings. One route takes us into Offatts Bayou which lies at a roughly 90-degree angle to North Deer Island and runs all the way under 61st street. This route can produce closer looks at American Oystercatcher, terns, gulls and other wading birds. There may also be some late Common Loon. Our second option takes us north of Pelican Island and through Pelican Cut, then out into the Texas City Channel. We continue past the almost submerged shipwreck SS Selma, around Sea Wolf Park and back into the Port of Galveston. This route can produce similar species…and we always keep a sharp eye out for Magnificent Frigatebirds.
A bus will shuttle you from FeatherFest headquarters to the Galveston Harbor to board the SS Seagull II, a 45-person bay catamaran. During this fabulous boat ride to the rookery, which takes about an hour, you will hone your skills for identifying bay birds in flight: American White and Brown Pelicans, American Avocet, Royal, Sandwich, Forster’s, Gull-billed, and Caspian Terns, cormorants, gulls, Reddish Egret, Tricolor Heron, plus pods of dolphins and a possible early Magnificent Frigatebird. The ride follows the Intracoastal waterway on the bay’s comfortably flat water. A Galveston Bay expert will talk about the bay to and from NDI. This trip is one FeatherFest activity appreciated by birders and non-birders alike.
Please use the restroom facilities in the museum prior to boarding. Don’t forget your jacket, as it is usually windy & very cool on the boat. Although many photo ops will be available, this is not a photography trip and large cameras with tripods are not recommended.
Saving North Deer Island Bird Rookery: Texas Parks and Wildlife video
North Deer Island: Houston Audubon webpage about North Deer Island and the shoreline restoration project